What would you want yourself to have known seven days ago?
What would you ask yourself seven days from now?
How would you answer on that seventh day?
These questions form part of an interesting questionnaire by a Nova Scotia researcher studying how people are responding to the pandemic and the stress and loneliness of self-isolation. A few of the answers appeared inThe Globe and Mailthis week. Buy snacks, someone sent back to their past self. Stop snacking, another person said. Get a haircut. Fix the internet. These were the housekeeping messages. But hidden within them was something more poignant, more hopeful: You are strong enough. Appreciate what is important. You will get through this.
The conversations we have with ourselves at this time are insightful and valuable, I hope you are listening to them and owning every part. I am sure they are human – angry, tired, and frustrated. I am sure they are sensible – maybe like coronavirus commandments. But listen closely. In those quiet moments of reflection , do you hear something else? Something wiser, more intentional. Perhaps a Spirit of the Truth.
You are strong enough. Appreciate what is important. You will get through this.
In our gospel this morning, Jesus speaks of the Spirit of Truth as a gift given to us: the presence of God, whom the world cannot see, who abides in us. The Spirit of Truth – or the Holy Spirit – is often viewed as a voice of conscience, a gentle whisper to keep us on the right path. But Jesus described the spirit in a way that suggests something more: when we listen to that voice, we get more than advice and directions; we hear truth.
What is our truth these days? It is full of messiness and disappointment. Graduations that won’t be celebrated. Parties that won’t happen. Trips home that will be postponed. The cottage out of reach. Family lost to us, fear, and devastation.
All that truth lay in those questions that Canadians posed to themselves, that little voice calling back to the past. And something else lay there, too, something that Jesus spoke about in the gospel today, something clear-eyed and divine. It was hope.
“If you love me,” Jesus tells the disciples, “you will keep my commandments.”
We know the commandments – many of us learned them as kids. We can rhyme them off like counting fingers, though we might get stuck on one or two. Those ten commandments – the housekeeping of a good, ethical life, are essential to our maintaining order, to allowing us to live in community. Especially right now, what mayhem would result in a world where everyone stole from everyone else, and rejected their parents, and lied about the facts – we see what happens well enough when only a few people act this way.
Ten of these make up the frame of a faith-led life.
But one commandment is the heart of it.
“Love one another,” Jesus said, and he placed this commandment above all others. And so, Jesus’s direction to keep his commandments is more complicated: it requires us to filter all other ten through this single one. It is a recognition that life is complicated, that choices are contextual, that action can be relative. In that complexity, we have one commandment to consider: Have we lived with love? Have we chosen with love? Have we acted with love?
Ultimately, how well we remember this guide from Jesus will determine how well we get through this difficult period. Not how often we stay two meters apart – although please, let’s all continue to physically distance. Not whether we sneak to the cottage or go to the grocery store without a mask – although Jesus, it’s plain to see, was a big fan of common sense.
The test will be how we live with one another; how we forgive and accept the imperfections of family and friends; how we stand up for those in the community who have little; how we speak out for those who are suffering from racism, sexism, homophobia, or abuse. That is the one commandment we are to keep above all others: to love even when loving is hard and complicated.
I read those responses that Canadians wrote down and hear the Spirit of Truth. The mix of everything we are feeling right now. But behind all the negatives, the messages so many people wanted to send to themselves were ones of encouragement, support, and hope. Listen to that spirit inside you. Write it down as a message for your future self to hear when you need it. But better yet, be generous with it. That is the spirit of God that abides in us, waiting to be shared.
John 14:15-21—6thSunday of Easter—May 17, 2020